Before my twins were born, I was a little bit nutty when it came to baby sleep.
There’s really no other way to describe it except maybe obsessive—yes, I was definitely obsessive. I surveyed my mom-friends on the best sleep books and bought them all. I read endless blog posts on the subject, cross-referencing facts and reading through endless reader comments. I read about twin sleep and singleton sleep, nap schedules, wake windows, and everything between.
My twins would be good sleepers, I was sure of it.
Then, they arrived.
Perhaps the title of this section should be newborn awake rather than newborn sleep, because I don’t remember a whole lot of sleep. Like most newborns, mine needed to be fed every two to three hours.
As someone who “needs” sleep, I was shocked at how quickly my body adapted to the lack of rest. I was up multiple times every night, and due to my Enneagram Type 3 personality, I rarely let myself rest during the day. The whole “mom sleeps when baby sleeps” approach was lost on me. Whenever someone suggested I sleep, I quickly rebutted “I’m fine!”
Apparently, I thought I was the only human who actually didn’t need sleep to survive.
Laying the Foundation
During months 1-3 of my twins’ life, I started putting my research into practice.
They were going longer stretches (right on schedule!) and my 2-3 hours of sleep started to result in 4-5 glorious hours at a time–things were happening! I was very adamant that my kids learn to fall asleep independently, so I made sure to lay them down awake, never feed or rock them to sleep, and established a by-the-book bedtime routine.
Around 3 months, we were down to one middle of the night feeding, and I was sure that a solid night of sleep was on the horizon.
I don’t know if the four-month sleep regression is real, but right around four months was when things took a turn.
My kids were falling asleep independently without a problem and had even slept through the night a handful of times, but the middle of the night wake-ups were still inconsistent. My son especially was highly dependent on his pacifier, so whenever it would fall out, he would cry and I’d have to groggily replace it–sometimes several times within an hour. Our sleep progression was going downhill—quickly.
One night, I was up in the middle of the night for what was probably the fourth time, and I called my mother sobbing, exclaiming that I thought I had delayed post-partum depression. “No, I think you’re just really really tired,” she responded, and she was right.
Sleep training was the next step. Here’s how I knew we were ready:
- I was dying of fatigue.
- My twins were eating plenty during the day (25+ oz each) and didn’t need a middle of the night feeding.
- They had slept through the night once or twice each–I knew they were capable.
- They were at least 4 months old (the recommended earliest age for sleep training that involves gentle crying/self-soothing).
How I Sleep Trained
I approached sleep training in a similar way as I did to infant sleep.
I asked mom-friends about their experience, read up on the various methods, and developed a plan that worked for us. The basics are all the same: your child needs to learn to fall asleep independently, and they can put themselves back to sleep independently if (and when) they wake up in the middle of the night. For us, this meant without the help of a pacifier, since technically that is not independently.
The details vary slightly in if and how long you allow your child to cry for, and every family needs to do what they are most comfortable with.
This is what worked for us:
Night 1: We decided that we would gradually lengthen the amount of time we let our kids cry for, beginning with five minutes. If they hit the time mark and were still crying, we would go in and rub their back, letting them feel comforted without actually picking them up or feeding them and then increase by 3-5 minutes at a time. If they were quiet for 15 seconds within the time period, we would start the clock again.
The first night, both kids cried for about a total of 40 minutes, on and off. I cried too. My husband reminded me that we’re teaching them to sleep, they are fed, safe, and loved. This is the motto I repeat to all sleep-training moms.
Night 2: I learned quickly that sitting outside of their nursery and listening to them cry wasn’t good for anyone. If you are sleep training, I highly recommend busying yourself with a task. Take the dog for a walk, pop in your headphones and commit to a song or two, take a shower. Do not stare at the monitor and feel sorry for yourself.
This night we repeated the same steps and the crying only lasted about a total of 20 minutes with a few short spurts overnight.
Night 3: The kids put themselves to sleep, stayed asleep, and we never looked back.
Will This Last Forever?
As with all humans, there are good and bad sleep nights, but for the majority, my kids (now 20 months) sleep 12-13 uninterrupted hours. In the rare chance they do wake up and make noise, they almost always put themselves back to sleep within a few minutes without intervention. Traveling and illness are the exceptions, and whenever we’re back to health and a normally scheduled routine, they go right back to their normal sleep.
How I Kept Our Bond
I think a lot of people are worried about sleep training because they’re scared of losing some of the physical bond of being close to your children at night (plus, hearing your children cry for any amount of time is tough!). While this form of sleep training isn’t for everyone and everyone has to do what they’re most comfortable with for their children, we still find plenty of special moments outside of sleeping time. We cuddle while we read books, sing songs together, and I give them tons of love, even at bedtime. We have special bedtime stories, goodnight kisses, and overall bedtime is a peaceful, low key time of the day. Sleep training hasn’t changed any of that.